After a hiatus of over a decade, the state-run Defence Research and Development Organization (DRDO) plans to restart the ‘Bhim’ self-propelled howitzer project once again. The ‘Bhim’ howitzer project went awry due to the ban on Denel of South Africa which was developing the artillery system as a private venture. After Denel was blacklisted by the Indian government due to its controversial role in a separate deal for anti-materiel rifles, the Bhim artillery system remained devoid of a gun.
The Indian Army needs many wheeled and tracked guns and even a joint collaboration with a private entity to produce the proposed artillary system has been one of the options. Since the need for self-propelled howitzers had been dire, India once again floated an RFP in the aftermath of the Denel fiasco but was left with a single vendor proposal by Samsung Techwin. Hence, a new RFP was issued and apparently, SWS Bofors, Nextel, Samsung Techwin along with Soltham responded to DRDO for the replacement gun. According to sources, DRDO proposals and technical evaluation has been done. The next step will be the integration of the gun with Arjun MBT chassis soon.
The ‘Bhim’ self-propelled howitzer has a fast reaction time and can stop from travelling and fire the first round within 30 seconds. The artillery system also takes 30 seconds to leave firing position making it ideal to use for shoot-and-scoot firing and avoiding counter battery fire. The artillery system has a welded hull and turret and the armour provides all-round protection against 7.62-mm armor-piercing rounds and artillery shell splinters. It is also fitted with an NBC protection system.
The Bhim artillery system is armed with 155mm / L52 howitzer and has a fully automatic ammunition loading system. Its maximum range of fire is 41 km with rocket assisted projectile and 52 km with Denel V-LAP rocket assisted projectile. This system is capable of firing standard NATO 155-mm ammunition. The secondary armament of the Bhim howitzer consists of a single 7.62-mm machine gun. The Bhim artillery system is based on a modified Arjun MBT chassis and the vehicle is powered by German MTU 838 Ka-501 diesel engine with 1400 hp. It also has a turret-mounted auxiliary power unit, which powers all systems, when the main engine is shut down. The Bhim SPH has advanced hydropneumatic suspension system.
Earlier, Denel of South Africa had proposed another variant which was the T6 turret mounted on the T-72 M1 MBT chassis which has also been tested. The T6 turret is self-contained and can be mounted on any other suitable vehicle platform and its development was finally completed in 2008 and offered for export. In 1999-2000 Indian army had conducted successful trails of the gun with Arjun chassis and Denel also had successfully demonstrated their own T-72 based howitzer in India for Indian army. Indian army had requirement of 400 mounted 155-mm / L52 howitzer. Out of these 400 howitzers, half could be based on Arjun chassis and another 200 to be mounted on modified TATRA trucks. The decision on selection of the gun will take place this year, said sources.